Monday, July 26, 2010

Glen Rutherford Article on WAKY and I'm A Mummy Remembered

Also see the web link 
City's airwaves went WAKY in the old days of rock 'n' roll
By Glen Rutherford from 1982
Cityscape is a weekly column in which members of the news staff ruminate on intriguing aspects of the life in the Louisville area.
 In the days before rock 'n' roll became an entry in the dictionary, a youngster had two choices if he wanted to hear the likes of Chuck Berry, Laverne Baker or Betty Everett.

He listened to the black radio stations - WLOU in town until sundown, then WLAC in Nashville at night, with "the Hoss Man, layin' it down for Royal Crown." Not the cola; the hairdressing cream.

'LAC had a midnight show, too, sponsored by "Randy's Record Shop. If it's ever been recorded, you can get it at Randy's."

That was it. That was before your mother knew what rock 'n' roll meant, before Elvis or Bill Haley, and yeah, before WAKY radio.

WGRC radio - the "George Rogers Clark radio station" - was playing who-knows-what kind of music before 1958; nobody I've talked to can remember. But they know what happened when a Texan named Gordon McLendon bought the station and changed its name to WAKY -- say that wacky.

The airwaves around Louisville haven't been the same since.

WAKY radio took to the air with 24 straight hours of one song, the immortal "Flying Purple People Eater."

Oh, they'd introduce other songs - "Hey, here's Louis Prima and Keely Smith," or "We know you're rarin' to hear Bobby Darin," but the song they'd play was Purple People Eater.

That was just the start of the craziness, of a decade or so of off-the-wall radio. It was radio that brought Louisville face to face, or ear to ear, with music that changed the way young people thought about practically everything.

WAKY has mollified over the years. The craziness gave way to less radical radio, which gave way to oldies -- in recent years they came play the same stuff that had made the station famous.

Now the oldies have given way to computers.

WAKY has switched to an electronic format; all the music is pre-programmed, played automatically without the aid of a disc jockey.

It's probably making Jumpin' Jack Sanders turn over in his grave.

Jumpin' Jack was perhaps the best known on-air personality WAKY ever had.

Probably the wackiest, too.

Thomas Shelby "Bob" Watson works for the Associated Press now, but back in the crazy days of WAKY radio, he was the station's news director. Like everyone who recalls Jumpin' Jack, Watson does so with a smile.

"I started at WAKY when I was still a student at UK," Watson recalled, "and all my teachers in Lexington thought I was crazy. They did not view WAKY as legitimate radio."

Little wonder.

Would a legitimate station air a "news report" about the alleged sighting of a giant alligator in the Ohio River near the foot of Fourth Street?

Would an on-air personality at a legitimate radio station set fire to the bottom of the news wire the real newsman was reading?

Would a legitimate station seriously promote such events as a man spending a weekend in a coffin with 40 poisonous snakes?

WAKY did all those things, and Jumpin' Jack Sanders was behind much of it.

"At one time, we had a three-man news department with Tom Perryman, Gerry Wood and me," Watson said, "Wood came to become one of Sanders' favorite people, and when that happened, look out. He couldn't wait 'til Wood got on the air to harass him."

On occasion, said Watson, Wood would still be typing his newscast right up to the second he was to go on the air, and occasionally he'd rip copy from the Associated Press wire machine and lay it on his lap.

Sanders would delight in seeing that," said Watson, "He'd sneak behind the turntables, make his way to the newsroom door and he'd light the copy. Just set it on fire."

It made for an interesting newscast.

So did the WAKY promotion centering on a guy who called him Wacheetanokai, the snake man.
Perryman, now general manager of WCII radio in Louisville, remembers that WAKY staged that promotion with the old Rambler City auto dealership in Jeffersonville, Ind.

"The guy'd read a book or something, lying with 40 or 50 poisonous snakes - least I guess they were poisonous," said Perryman. "This time he did it in the dealer's showroom, and they had about 40,000 people come in that weekend. Didn't sell a single car, that I know of, because it was too crowded for anybody to get any work done."

An incredible amount of talent came and went from WAKY radio, Perryman said. Not just DJs, either, but talented newscasters, program directors and station managers.

"It was, no kidding, a tremendous station," he said.

Sanders, who died in Nashville four years ago ( Ed Note :Jack Sanders  died in February, 1978 in Nashville from liver disease and pneumonia), wasn't WAKY's only famous crazy. Those who followed him were sometimes just as crazy -- jocks such as Bill Bailey, Jim Brand, Gary Burbank, Weird Beard and Coyote Calhoun.

And especially Skinny Bobby Harper.

Harper was at WAKY just a year or so, but he left an impression. He was one of the first in town to write comedy bits for his show ahead of time -- he did routines such as "The Itty-Bitty News," and phony commercials for non-existent products or movies.

Who can forget his famous promotion of a bogus film called "The Monster That Ate Pleasure Ridge Park."

"Pleasure Ridge Park," went Harper's ad. "Where men are men, women are men, and the children are confused."

He was also the guy who started the "Ties for Columbus" project, an effort to get people to send neckties to Louisville Police Chief C.J. (Columbus James) Hyde.

I think he inundated poor C.J. with ties," said Watson. "Tell you what, it (WAKY) was the kind of place where work wasn't work. You looked forward to coming in every day 'cause you never knew what was going to happen."

It was also the kind of station you loved to listen to. To this day, it's easy to recall the station's Sunday night jingle -- one of the last things my radio played before I drifted into sleep and into another week of school.

"The weekend's over," the jingle singers sang, "it's Sunday night, time to dream a dream or two. With WAKY, seven-nine-oh, Sunday night radioooo…"
Note From Bill Grubb

Wasn't it Jack Sanders who locked himself in the control room and played the Mummy song ?

Here it is to jog your collective memories

1 comment:

  1. As a kid, I would listen to WAKY late at night on the 6-transistor radio my grandparents gave me on my 10th birthday (early 60's). Used to catch the "Rudy Ratfink"(?) show which featured early R&R and a canned announcer - one of the influences that prompted me to nag my parents into buying me an electric guitar (a real Fender!) which brought me into the exciting garage band fever that swept Louisville during the 60's!